Evolving Technology: Trends and takeaways from the ICTA L.A. Seminar

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Technology

The International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA) recently hosted its annual technical seminar session in Los Angeles for a broad group of industry leaders serving and working in the cinema business. The following are key takeaway points from the presentations, manufacturer’s spotlights and general networking, which provided exhibitors with much to consider in supporting their daily operations and future business planning.

* Content brings customers to the theatre, but their visitor experience—over all areas—is what stays with them. Today’s cinemas are the best they’ve ever been, with increased services, rising presentation quality and a focus on audience comfort.

* Traditional marketing and promotional models have changed, as social-media commentary now drives the success of film releases and a multiplex’s competitive ranking. Utilizing the new field of “Analytics” is helping operators better understand and predict release performance and customer behavior.

* Cinema “reseating”—the retrofitting and upgrading of existing auditoriums with recliner seats—remains the top business priority and main capital spend for exhibitors.

* Today’s cinema multiplex needs to be more than a movie house—they are entertainment destinations and exhibitors must look beyond just movies to be competitive. Your architect can help model the requirements and business case—space, costs and revenue—for various options such as enhanced food and beverage/bars, gaming, arcades, bowling and, very soon, virtual-reality (VR) centers. Special 4D cinema outfitting has also been successful in creating a unique audience opportunity.

* Cinemas have become fully interconnected and networked operations with data and systems linked throughout all parts of the business. This requires both high-level IT skills and a critical focus on cyber-security.

* Adding alcohol sales to your cinema typically involves a painstaking approvals process requiting local knowhow and knowledgeable experts to save time and avoid errors. Costs can be high, but the payback is good.

* High Dynamic Range (HDR) image projection represents one of the most significant new developments and opportunities—brighter, greater contrast and more colorful images. Dolby has developed HDR production and release pipelines for early market premium-large-format (PLF) venues and high-end home television; wider HDR adoption will depend on industry accessibility and cost.

* The rollout of laser-illuminated projector installations is advancing ahead of expectation, with more than 3,000 laser phosphor (LP) systems added in the past nine months for over 4,700 total LP screens. Top-end RGB laser illumination continues as the trend for leading PLF theatres, with nearly 400 sites utilizing a variety of single/dual projector configurations and unique proprietary designs providing images that can go well beyond today’s industry specs.

* LP systems now cover the full range of small and medium-sized screens with 2K and 4K projector resolutions and new enhanced reds. A favorable cost-of-ownership model—i.e., lower electrical costs and 20 to 30K hours of operation without lamp changes—is being embraced by many exhibitors.

* Exhibitors should also see more affordable high-performance RGB projectors as laser component costs mature down significantly over the next two years. New products and suppliers of both RGB and LP systems will enter the cinema market this year.

* Also within the next two years, it is expected that both LP and RGB laser-based systems will grow from the beginning of the TAM (Total Available Market) deployment curve to dominate their respective markets, and RGB laser will be the only projection type going into PLF locations.

* Immersive audio continues to grow and become a necessary requirement for a quality cinema experience. Cinema audio developers and equipment providers continue to innovate with components and processors that further enhance the audience experience as well as reduce installation and equipment costs. After much time and effort, the SMPTE working group on immersive audio standards expects to have these in place by Q3 2018.

* Exhibitors need to be aware of the ongoing change to SMPTE-DCP format as the industry standard. (SMPTE-DCP packaging allows for an expanded set of features, including higher frame rates, immersive sound, 3D subtitle support and embedded metadata.) Test files are available to confirm system readiness. Detailed information can be found on the Inter-society Digital Cinema Forum website or through your technical service provider. A small number of early Series I systems may have difficulty with this upgrade.

* VR and its relationship with movie content, ancillary/lobby spaces and even as an alternative viewing experience is being looked at, tested and measured by many industry players as one of the “next big things.” Exhibitors will need to watch what works commercially and what doesn’t as this unfolds at early adoption test sites.

 

Paul Panabaker has three decades of experience in the development and operation of innovative cinemas and technologies. Today he is applying his expertise towards shaping a sustainable and progressive exhibition industry. Contact him at energydimensions@cogeco.ca.